True Conversion To Know You Are Truly Saved: Examining The Sinner’s Prayer
A Christian’s salvation is secure forever. To know he is truly saved he must simply believe that what Scripture says about salvation is true, and accept it and live by it. There is no magic formula one has to do to be saved. It is simply to have the correct mindset and spiritual transformation by God. Even if there is no magic formula, sometimes a formula has aided someone’s understanding of true biblical salvation such as the formula presented in the sinner’s prayer. I do not use the sinner’s prayer personally and I will explain later, but first I will examine the sinner’s prayer with you.
Although current popular, reformed, evangelical leaders such as David Platt, who was mentioned in an earlier post about his hate for the sinner’s prayer, will say it is evil and that it leads people to false conversion, that is not always the case. I personally do not use the sinner’s prayer or lead anyone through it when I witness the Gospel. I do not think it is necessary but when writing a Gospel tract or explaining it through typing I have on occasion went through the basic ideas found in a typical sinner’s prayer writing. This is because, although the sinner’s prayer is a formula and could be impersonally recited, it still contains the basic ideas or knowledge of what brings someone to salvation.
The sinner’s prayer contains basic belief statements written in so many words, and there are many versions, but they all should state these general concepts in a form such as this:
“Dear God, I am a sinner and I know I deserve to be punished. But I believe that your Son Jesus Christ came down to die for my sins and has taken my punishment for me. I am sorry for my sins and want to be forgiven. Please enter my heart and live in me and become my Lord and Savior. Help me to live for you. I put my faith and trust in you. Thank you. Amen.“
This in itself is not bad. It states correct doctrine of understanding about what God has done and how to pray to God and repent. It promotes, repentance, faith, trust, beliefs in God. It expresses that Christ took the punishment for us and that we must make God our Lord and Savior, etc. A Christian can find all of these concepts in the Bible in verses that express these things.
Some people who hold to reformed theology or Calvinism assume the sinner’s prayer is Arminian and is a manipulative trick to get someone to recite a prayer like some kind of incantation that supernaturally seals a person’s soul for salvation. I am a Calvinist but I do not believe such things. I do not believe the sinner’s prayer is necessarily an Arminian trick. John Bunyan who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress promoted in that story reformed beliefs about salvation. That God comes to you first and chooses you and you repent. He also expresses that some people are hardened and unable now to repent, such as the “man in the iron cage” in the story. Even Bunyan expresses his own version of the sinners prayer in his book. This is not anti-reformed theology. Ben Roger’s in Founder’s Journal states, “For John Bunyan, Christ’s whole obedience, both active and passive, was performed for the elect and the elect alone.”
The sinner’s prayer has history in Christianity. Maybe it’s not found in the Bible but it has often been to used as a way to express the points one must understand for salvation. The idea of confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus as found in Romans 10:9 is what prompted it in the first place. Even so, one must make sure they do not use the sinner’s prayer as a magic incantation or magic spell one must recite in order to magically seal themselves into salvation. Words mean nothing, but the heart’s intention mean everything. The words expressed from the heart are what matters. A true Christian will understand who Christ is, what He did on the cross, that what Christ did was take the punishment the Christian deserved himself but Christ suffered in his place, that Christ rose from the dead and is alive, that the Holy Spirit now lives in him, that he is now the slave and and servant of God as he has made God through Christ his Lord and Master, and that he is now forgiven and should expect to see God in glory in heaven with the other saints. This Christian will live a holy life with intention to love God and obey Him. When this Christian sins he will understand no matter what God has saved him and he will fall on his knees in a heart of repentance as he looks at the cross and not his own will to be secure (1 John 1:9). He will always desire what is good even if he sins because he will get back on track. John MacArthur in his book Twelve Unlikely Heroes states,
“[God’s] saving grace extends to all who repent and believe in Him…When sinner’s recognize the Lord as Sovereign Creator and Judge of the Universe, and cry out to Him for mercy, He graciously saves them from divine wrath, giving them eternal life instead…Sinner’s are creatures who have broken God’s law. They await His wrath, yet He offers them forgiveness and salvation through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ…those who repent from their sin and believe in Him, whether Jew of Gentile, will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).” (pp. 125-126)
The above quote is all of the doctrine found in a typical sinner’s prayer. The key to making it valid is if the wrods come from the heart of the sinner. That the sinner cries out to God out of sincerity and fear and awe.
Some reformed types who are more hyper would have problems with such statements about the sinner’s prayer. But in reality Christians sin, but they do not have a continual willful rebellion against God and unconcerned feelings towards their personal sins and offenses against the Lord. This is not antinomianism. The idea of eternal security is often portrayed by false teachers as a person who says the Lord’s prayer and confesses Christ at some point in his life and no matter what will be saved just because he recited it. Now, no matter how this person lives or what he cares about does not matter because he is saved and nothing can take his salvation away. Not only do false teachers teach such heresy, there are many genuine Christians who misunderstand what eternal security means. The truth is eternal security is what Calvinists term as Election, but still many Calvinists also misunderstand Eternal Security and think it means what the false teaching stated above is. Eternal Security is not Arminian, it actually is the same idea that high brow Calvinists term as predestination or election. Not that the terms predestination or election are wrong terms. They are the correct terms and found in the Bible, but the idea that you must only use such terms when describing eternal salvation that cannot be taken away. Such high brow egghead types will claim the term Eternal Security is unbiblical, yet it is really just another way to describe these biblical teachings. Nothing can be taken out of Christ’s hands and what the Father has given Him no one can ever take away (John 20:28).
Here is a good video that explains certain phrases and how they are unbiblical with how typically evangelicals present the sinner’s prayer.
Todd Freel does not completely bash the sinner’s prayer, or claim people who say such phrases did something completely evil, he just believes one should present the Gospel as biblically as possible. I agree.
I personally do not use the sinner’s prayer when doing evangelism simply because I do not want someone to mistakenly assume that reciting it alone will save them. A heart change is necessary and one cannot tell a person’s fruits right away, one must be sanctified through discipleship and biblical understanding. The proof of their salvation will be shown through the way they live much as how the second chapter of James explains. Yet, this does not invalidate some Christians who came to know the Lord because of the sinner’ prayer or even an altar call. God has used such things in the past to save his elect. It is not inherently evil nor is it damnable. But I do not think it is the best way to promote the Gospel. Even though I do not use the sinner’s prayer, I explain everything that is found within it from the Bible and my own words to describe what one must do to be saved. There is a serious overreaction against the sinner’s prayer by popular evangelical leaders today that I find ridiculous. It is a huge trend to bash on traditional church or evangelical behaviors. I do understand the problem of emotional manipulation and other nonsense, but the sinner’s prayer in itself is not completely wrong. I do thin though, there are more effective and sure ways to promote salvation than the sinner’s prayer. But it certainly is not damnable more than someone who confesses reformed theology but is truly a heretic who many people today are following (another topic for another time).